How To Write a Scientific Paper Introduction
The introduction to a scientific paper is probably never considered the most important part of the paper by the researcher who is writing it. After all, it does not describe vital research methods for replication or report striking results for consideration, yet the introduction is one of the two parts of a scientific paper that readers are often most eager to read. The other is the conclusion, suggesting that audiences are particularly keen to know the beginning and ending of a scientific research story, but the focus on these two brief sections of a scientific paper is not quite that simple. It is what an introduction does to present the motivation behind scientific research and give it value that is so appealing, just as it is the way in which a conclusion interprets the findings of scientific research in relation to the motivation offered in the introduction that causes many readers to flip from introduction directly back to the conclusion before reading the scientific heart of a paper.
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An effective introduction to a scientific paper will usually provide the background or contextual information that even readers who are not familiar with the topic or situation require to understand the primary implications of the research presented in the manuscript. Starting with a wider perspective and narrowing the focus to draw readers into the specifics of your research can be an extremely effective strategy. Establish the importance of your work by indicating what is lacking in current knowledge or practice and explaining how your research resolves the problem. Citing and discussing a few key studies or review articles will help you clarify the context and value of your research, and in some cases you may need to include a brief review of the relevant scholarship in your introduction. Any new methods you use that are directly related to the value of your work might be mentioned, but details should be reserved for the section dedicated to methodology. Anchoring your work in a certain time and place can be useful, and considering the perspective of the journal you are targeting for publication or the focus of the course you are taking can help you emphasise the most relevant points. Discipline-specific terminology, theories and abbreviations should be explained, and the objectives and hypotheses of your research should be clearly stated. A brief overview of the entire paper is a common way to close an introduction.
The nature of your research and the guidelines or author instructions you are following will necessarily influence the precise content and organisation of the introduction for your scientific paper, but as a general rule it is absolutely essential to analyse and interpret your research results thoughtfully before tackling the introduction to a scientific paper. Beginning to write any text is difficult, and the introduction to a scientific study can be the most challenging part of the paper to write. Precisely where to begin is often a notoriously difficult question, with the right answer based on which aspects of your research you hope to emphasise and how you understand the interests and concerns of your readers. Many scientists choose to write the introduction to a research paper after the rest of the manuscript has been drafted and a clear picture of exactly what they are introducing has emerged. This can be a successful approach, as can writing a hasty draft of the introduction or perhaps just a rough list of what it should include to get started and then returning to edit and finish the introduction once the rest of the text is in place.
Never forget that the introduction to your scientific paper is the first part of the manuscript that your readers will encounter, so your writing should be as clear, correct and professional as its content is engaging, valuable and relevant. Concise language arranged in complete sentences using commonly understood vocabulary is advisable, and your introduction, like all parts of a scientific paper submitted for publication or grading, should always be proofread, corrected and refined to eliminate all factual, grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors, and produce a text that clearly communicates to your target audience exactly what you intend.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.
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